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Israel can now strip away 48 Palestinians' citizenship

An Israeli court ruling that 'breach of loyalty' to the state is grounds for denaturalisation will greatly facilitate its long-held plan to expel the Palestinian citizens of Israel
Israeli forces remove a protester during a demonstration by Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 1 July 2022 (AFP)
Israeli forces remove a protester during a demonstration by Palestinians in Masafer Yatta, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 1 July 2022 (AFP)

Last week, in a precedential decision, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the state had the power to revoke the citizenship of a person convicted of offences that amounted to "breach of loyalty", even if the person would become stateless as a result and in violation of international law.

The decision deliberated on the case of Alaa Zayoud, a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship. In October 2015, Zayoud rammed his car into a bus station and stabbed three Israelis. In 2017, a year after his conviction, the minister of interior notified Zayoud of his intent to revoke his citizenship, in accordance with the Citizenship Law.

The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. Its implications are grave and will be seen in the near and far future

The administrative court in Haifa approved the decision. Zayoud appealed and the case ended up in the Supreme Court.

In its decision, the Supreme Court determined that: “There was no constitutional defect in the arrangement that allows the revocation of the citizenship of a person who committed an act that constitutes a breach of loyalty in the State of Israel, such as: an act of terrorism; an act of treason or serious espionage; or the acquisition of citizenship or the right of permanent residency in a hostile state or in hostile territory. 

"This is so, even if as a result of the revocation of his citizenship, the individual becomes stateless, provided that if the individual becomes stateless, the interior minister must grant him a status of permanent residence in Israel or another designated status.”

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The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. Its implications are grave and will be seen in the near and far future. This decision has created a legal path for revoking the citizenship of the 48 Palestinians (also known as Palestinian citizens of Israel), a stepping-stone in Israel’s efforts to advance the ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians.

'Terrorist intent'

On a practical level, the court has cleared the way for what would become the routine denaturalisation of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, making them vulnerable to deportation, something Israel has long aspired to.

The decision to substitute citizenship with a so-called permanent residency status might enable individuals to continue to have access to some social services, but it strips them from the utmost protection that citizenship is designed to grant: the right to remain at home.

Israel knows that to make 48 Palestinians vulnerable to expulsion, it has first to revoke their citizenship. The court’s decision facilitates just that.

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And it is Israel and its security services who define what constitutes a “breach of loyalty”, which according to the Citizenship Law creates the grounds for revoking citizenship. At the moment, Israel defines a “breach of loyalty” based on Israel’s Counter-Terrorism Law, which permits it to classify different offences as terrorist acts.

Israel routinely applies "terrorist intent" when it comes to Palestinians. For example, in the aftermath of May 2021's Unity Intifada, Israel arrested thousands of Palestinians and filed indictments against hundreds of protesters, with 167 of them charged with terrorist offences, based on the Counter-Terrorism Law.

Following the Supreme Court's recent decision, all of them face the threat of having their citizenship revoked. Palestinians know all too well what this could potentially mean: expulsion from their homeland. 

The act of revoking citizenship would leave the affected Palestinians stateless. Israel already made all Palestinians stateless in 1948 with the nullification of Palestinian citizenship under the British Mandate. Many Palestinians remain stateless. The Palestinians who remained after the Nakba (the Catastrophe) in 1948 received Israeli citizenship in the first two decades of the state.

Now Israel is threatening to make them stateless again.

Although this decision clearly violates international law, the court still determined that it was constitutional to denaturalise Palestinians, stating - falsely - that the condition of statelessness could be remedied through the extension of “permanent residence in Israel or another designated status”.

A secret plan

The experience of Jerusalemites teaches us that there is nothing permanent in “permanent residence” when it comes to Palestinians. Since 1967, Israel has regularly revoked the residence of Jerusalemites, effectively banning them permanently from their city and homes. So far, over 15,000 residencies have been revoked, as part of the ongoing effort to eliminate Palestinians from the city.

Israel has never made peace with the existence of its Palestinian citizens. It pursued plans for the mass expulsion of 48 Palestinians in its first decade. The Kafr Qasim massacre of October 1956, in which the army executed 51 Palestinians, was part of a larger secret plan, called Operation Hafarperet, to oust the Palestinian population from the Little Triangle.

Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party (Tkuma), speaks during a plenum session on the state budget on September 2, 2021. AFP
Far-right Israeli politician Bezalel Smotrich has claimed that Jews 'are the landlords of this land… God did promise us all of the Land of Israel' (AFP)

In addition, in the early 1950s, Israel attempted to advance a plan for the expulsion of 10,000 Palestinians from seven villages in the Galilee, as well as other plans for the resettlement of Palestinians in Argentina and Brazil.

The quest to expel Palestinians persisted. It re-emerged in the Israeli public and political landscape during the 1980s with the rise of Meir Kahane, an American-born ultra-Orthodox nationalist rabbi, and his fascist party, Kach. Kach advocated the denaturalisation of Palestinian citizens and their transfer, as well as the expulsion of Palestinians in the occupied 1967 territories. 

Proposed plans to reduce the number of Palestinian citizens are now an integral part of the Israeli mainstream political discourse

Since the 2000s, there have been significant efforts to make the citizenship of Palestinians more easily revocable. Proposed plans to reduce the number of Palestinian citizens are now an integral part of the Israeli mainstream political discourse and are supported by most of the Israeli public.

We have seen calls to demand that 48 Palestinians sign an oath of allegiance to the Israeli state as a Jewish state; the adoption of the Nation-State of the Jewish People in 2018; and the advancement of what is known as the “population exchange” plan - the planned transfer of Little Triangle villages and their estimated 300,000 residents to the Palestinian state against the will of the Palestinians in these areas.

Instrument of sumud

In an alarming development, in recent years Israel has been revoking the citizenship of Palestinian Bedouins in the Negev in an apparent test case for a wider project of denaturalisation of Palestinian citizens. In 2010, the Ministry of Interior began a review of the citizenship status of the Bedouin.

Its report concluded that thousands of Bedouin had been erroneously registered as citizens. Subsequently, Israel denaturalised hundreds of Bedouin in the Negev, rendering them stateless.

It is no coincidence that Israel began with the Bedouin - the most vulnerable and marginalised population among 48 Palestinians.

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It is no secret that Israel wants to see all Palestinians, including 48 Palestinians, vanish. Even though the latter were granted Israeli citizenship, Israel sees 48 Palestinians as guests whose presence is not only undesirable, but always conditional.

Israel sees in their citizenship a gesture, not a right - and gestures can always be undone - as articulated by Israel’s former transport minister, Bezalel Smotrich: "We are the landlords of this land. This land has belonged to the Jewish people for thousands of years. God did promise us all of the Land of Israel, a promise he kept. We’ve just been the most hospitable people in the world since the days of Abraham and so you’re still here. At least for now."

We need to see it for what it is: Israel is working step by step to create legal paths for making denaturalisation, and thus the expulsion, of 48 Palestinians possible. For 48ers, Israeli citizenship has been an instrument of sumud or steadfast perseverance.

It guarantees - for the most part - their continued presence in their homeland. For 48 Palestinians, citizenship means survival. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Lana Tatour is a lecturer/assistant professor in global development at the School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).
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